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Jeremy Irons: Prior Same-Sex Marriage, Abortion Comments Shouldn’t ‘Continue as Distraction to Berlinale’

British actor Jeremy Irons, this year’s president of the international jury at the Berlin Film Festival, has spoken out about prior controversies surrounding his alleged views on sexual abuse, same-sex marriage and abortion.

Irons opened the jury’s press conference on Thursday, calling it a “privilege” to have been named president, but wasted no time in addressing comments made to the press over the last 10 years which recently resurfaced. Last month the Berlinale came under fire from the German press for tapping the British actor as head of the international jury.

“I should like, not as the jury president, but on a personal level to address various comments that I have reportedly made in the past, and which have resurfaced in certain sections of the press over the past few weeks. I wish I didn’t have to take up time with this, but I don’t want it to continue as a distraction to the Berlinale,” he told journalists.

Irons claimed in a 2011 interview with the U.K.’s Radio Times that “if a man puts his hand on a woman’s bottom, any woman worth her salt can deal with it,” adding: “It’s communication. Can’t we be friendly?” The actor has also defended the Church’s right to call abortion a sin and suggested in a 2013 interview with the Huffington Post that legalizing gay marriage could encourage fathers to marry their sons in order to avoid inheritance taxes.

Claiming the comments were “already refuted and apologized for,” Irons said he wanted to address the subjects of sexual abuse, same-sex marriage, and abortion.

“Let me make my views this morning entirely clear on these particular subjects once and for all. Firstly, I support wholeheartedly the global movement to address the inequality of women’s rights, and to protect them from abusive, damaging, and disrespectful harassment, both at home and in the workplace,” he said.

“Secondly, I applaud the legislation of same-sex marriage, wherever it has been attained, and I hope that such enlightened legislation will continue to spread into more and more societies. And thirdly, I support wholeheartedly the right of women to have an abortion, should they so decide.

“These three human rights are, I believe, essential steps toward a civilized and humane society, for which we should all continue to strive. There are many parts of the world where these rights do not yet exist, where such ways of living lead to imprisonment, and even to death.”

He continued: “I hope that some of the films we will be watching will address these problems, among many others we face in our world, and I look forward to watching films in this year’s Berlinale which will provoke us to question attitudes, prejudices, and worldwide perceptions of life as we know it. I hope that’s put my past comments to bed.”

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